Sunday, 7 July 2013

Feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross

Today begins the traditional novena in honour of the Triumph of the Holy Cross.

[Note: The feast was traditionally celebrated on 16 July. However, this conflicted with the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, so the feast was translated first to 17 July, and then finally fixed on 21 July. For 17 July, the novena starts tomorrow, and for 21 July on 12 July.]

In the general calendar of the Roman Catholic Church, there are two feasts honouring the Holy Cross. First is the Invention of the Holy Cross, which commemorates the finding of the True Cross in A.D. 326 by Saint Helena, mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great. This feast is traditionally celebrated on 3 May, but after the institution of the feast of Saint Joseph the Worker, the former was removed from the general calendar, and was listed amongst the pro aliquibus locis propers.

Second is the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, which commemorates the return of the True Cross in A.D. 628 by the Byzantine Emperor Flavius Heraclius Augustus. The True Cross was taken as a trophy by the Sassanid Emperor Khosrau II (not a Muslim but a Zoroastrian) when he captured Jerusalem in A.D. 614. The feast is kept on 14 September in the general calendar of the Church. It had also been also referred to as the Triumph of the Holy Cross.

For Spain, however, and her previous colonies, a third feast honouring the Holy Cross is allowed. This is the Triumph of the Holy Cross, originally kept in 16 July (or 17 July or 21 July, in other places). It commemorates the victory of the combined forces of the Catholic kings of Christian Iberia over the Almohad rulers of Muslim Iberia in the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa, in Jaén in Andalucía on 16 July 1212. This Crusade was organised by Alfonso VIII of Castille, the Archbishop of Toledo Rodrigo Ximénez de Rada, and Pope Innocent III to protect the Christian realms of Iberia.

The miracle that begat the feast
The outcome was decisive, precipitating the eventual collapse of the Muslim empire in the Iberian Peninsula, imparting greater momentum to the Reconquista.

El triunfo de la Santa Cruz
Marceliano Santa María Sedano

Let us read a brief account of the battle as recounted in the three lessons of the third nocturn of the Office of Matins for 16 July in the breviary of the Dominicans of the Philippine Islands, organised under the Province of the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary. These lessons were written by Archbishop Rodrigo Ximénez de Rada and by other worthy authors.

[Note: In the sixth lesson, we read a passage that describes a practice that was contentious at that time, namely, the carrying of the primatial Cross before the Archbishop of Toledo. Bishop Rodrigo vigorously protected and asserted his primatial rights and that of his See against what he called the pretentions of the Sees of Braga and Tarragona. Eventually, the primacy of the See of Toledo would be recognised all over Spain and the Spanish Realms, becoming at the same time, the richest see in the whole Western Christendom.]

The feast in the Philippines
The Ordo Divini Officii of the Islands ranks the feast as a duplex maius, equal in rank to the other two feasts of the Holy Cross.

This would be equivalent today to the rank of II classis. The Dominican breviary, on the other hand, ranks it as a totum duplex, which would be equivalent nowadays to I classis. These ranks and dignities notwithstanding, the feast has long disappeared from the greater ecclesial memory of the Philippines, and only the Invention of the Holy Cross appears to have taken deep root, evidenced by the multitude of santacruzan processions throughout May, never mind if they are liturgically correct or consistent with the teaching of the Church.

The novena of the Holy Cross itself, according to the text approved for the then Diocese of Cebu, especially remembers the victory at Las Navas de Tolosa on the seventh day. The novena was translated from Spanish into Cebuano by a priest of the diocese from the novena diffused throughout Querétaro in Mexico, composed or based on the tradition set by the Franciscan friar, the Venerable Fray Antonio Margil de Jesús, Servant of God. The translated text is given below:

Although the feast has seemingly disappeared from the religious life of the Isles, there is at least one municipality in the Philippines that still keeps the feast: the municipality of Carigara, the most prosperous residencia of the Jesuits in the island of Leyte. The town feast was thus instituted in commemoration of the day the first Jesuits arrived in Carigara, 16 July 1569, which fell on the feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross.


  1. Where can I find a copy of the translated (English) version of the Holy Cross novena approved for the (then) Diocese of Cebu?

  2. You can try at St. Paul’s. I am personally aware that an English translation is available, as I have heard it before, although I am not sure if the full novena was translated or just parts of it.